Sunday, January 17, 2010

Little Blue Pill

I read Joan Didion’s book, “The Year of Magical Thinking,” which documents the first year of grief after her husband’s death (which happened while their daughter was fighting for her life in the hospital: when it rains it pours!).

I understood what she meant by “Magical Thinking”: the unarticulated expectation that things will return to “normal”, that the lost loved one will walk through the door...When I receive a text message, there is still a split instant before my mind engages and reality reasserts itself when I expect it will be from Rachel. Denial is a powerful thing, and I can’t just rationalize it away. It goes deeper than that; it is an emotional response, arising from a place not governed by the mind. As I read in a poem by Rumi today, “I need more grace than I thought.”

Anyway, Joan Didion researched the medical and psychological literature about grief as she grieved. One of the things she discovered is that even from the beginning of modern psychology, grief, though a natural and normal response to significant loss, has been categorized as a type of temporary insanity. Temporary is the operative word. But does anyone ever return to normal? We can’t. And that’s part of the problem...

Another thing she discovered is that there is indisputable scientific proof that extended periods of grief produce health problems and hasten death. Remember Old Dan and Little Ann from “Where the Red Fern Grows”?

Now I can tolerate a little more the initially offensive encouragements to “get over it.” The problem is, like the enjoinder to “pull yourself up by the bootstraps,” it is impossible. You can’t get over it; you must go through it, and the journey takes as long as it takes. We may find ourselves someday in a green and pleasant land, but it won’t be where we wanted to go...

I have been experiencing mystifying health problems lately, gastro-intestinal problems which I will not detail here (which, also, suspiciously coincided with the horror of the holidays). I feel sick all the time and have no energy. I am used to feeling sick...I just attributed it to the misery of depression. But when I found I couldn’t eat and couldn’t function I knew something was definitely wrong and I needed to seek medical attention. There is no definite diagnosis yet, but of course I am taking pills, which have given me some relief.

One of them is Zoloft, the anti-depressant. It’s depressing to admit I have to take an anti-depresant. Since the beginning of our ordeal, I have wanted to feel whatever I needed to feel, believing that is the only way to make progress towards...what do I call it? Health? Wholeness? Healing? I really don’t believe any of those things are on the horizon. I may learn to accommodate my new disability - as I have the little finger of my right hand which I cannot bend - but I am irremediably changed.

But I am trying it because my body needs a break from the effects of the stress of grief to have a chance to restore itself. Of course, I am trying some nutritional and diet remedies as well. I mean to be kinder to myself, as my dear friend Ray has wisely been advising me since the beginning. Next week I may even join Jill for a yoga class. We are trying to watch more romantic comedies now than tragic dramas...I hope something helps...

I don’t mean to complain. And I am not looking for sympathy. I merely want to state for the record that this too - the ruined health of surviving loved ones - is one of the consequences of DUI.